First here is a look at the first round series schedule:
Game 1 – Sat April 17 Milwaukee at Atlanta 5:30 PM ESPN
Game 2 – Tue April 20 Milwaukee at Atlanta 7:00 PM NBATV
Game 3 – Sat April 24 Atlanta at Milwaukee 7:00 PM ESPN
Game 4 – Mon April 26 Atlanta at Milwaukee TBD TBD
Game 5 * Wed April 28 Milwaukee at Atlanta TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 30 Atlanta at Milwaukee TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 2 Milwaukee at Atlanta TBD TBD
While some pundits out there think that the Bucks are capable of pulling the upset even without Andrew Bogut I ultimately think that this was the best match up for the Hawks in the first round. With me it is not about disrespect to the Bucks because I will admit that I laughed at the thought that John Salmons was going to help this Bucks team in any way when that trade was made. The fact is that trade did work and with a healthy Bogut then this is a scary team. They simply however don’t match up well with the Hawks. I am not going to predict a sweep, but barring Milwaukee landing a haymaker and stealing Game one or two in Atlanta then I think Atlanta will prevail in as little as five games. Having watched this Hawks team for nearly all 82 games you could almost tell when they were confident and when they weren’t. Against the Bucks they just looked confident to me.
It really goes beyond that though in some ways. Looking at the position match ups really doesn’t tell you anything because rarely in this series will you see shooting guard matched up on shooting guard and small forward matched up on small forward. The Bucks match up problems are magnified by the loss of Andrew Bogut and already has Scott Skiles talking about using Ersan Ilyasova at the center position. Ilyasova has the length at 6’10 but shouldn’t be able to contain Josh Smith much less Al Horford inside.
For fun here are the positional breakdowns as I see them:
Mike Bibby vs Brandon Jennings
This is the one potential mismatch here as I will also mention Luke Ridnour. Ridnour was actually more effective during the regular season against the Hawks than Jennings. However, Jennings has the potential to take over a game and that is why the Hawks will try to throw a bigger player like Johnson or Jamal Crawford at Jennings.
Jennings lost Bibby several times in the last meeting and Bibby burned him. Bibby’s game is ultimately about spacing the floor and knocking down the perimeter jumper. The Hawks will need him to shoot the ball well during the playoffs.
Joe Johnson vs John Salmons
You potentially could call John Salmons a poor man’s Joe Johnson but there really isn’t any comparisons from the bargain to the original. Joe’s overall game separates them and the fact that Milwaukee has shown zero potential to guard Johnson this season. It hasn’t mattered who he was matched up with, Joe has been able to get any shot that he wants and has converted against the Bucks.
In Milwaukee’s only win over the Hawks this season, Salmons did have a huge game and did a lot of that damage matched up against Johnson. So he is clearly capable. I look for Marvin Williams to draw the defensive assignment on Salmons anytime he is in the game as the Hawks will try to wear him down without wearing Johnson down in the process. Also I will be absolutely shocked if Scott Skiles continues to single cover Johnson in this series.
Advantage: Joe Johnson
Marvin Williams vs Carlos Delfino
Marvin is many times the forgotten man on the Hawks but his importance is more profound in the playoffs. He is arguably the Hawks best one on one defender and will no doubt be matched up with Salmons most of this series. Williams also needs to be aggressive offensively and crash the offensive boards. He can make a definite impact there especially if he finds Delfino matched up against him.
Delfino really has had a nice season and it will be key for the Hawks to get a hand in his face. Typically the Hawks have hid Mike Bibby by placing him guarding Delfino. Delfino has shown little ability to take Mike off the dribble or isolate in the post against the smaller Bibby. This will be something to keep an eye on if Bibby in fact remains matched up against Delfino.
Advantage : Marvin Williams
Josh Smith vs Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Mbah a Moute is an excellent long defender whom the Bucks would like to match up on Joe Johnson. The problem is if they do that then they end up with a much smaller player or Ersan Ilyasova trying to guard Josh Smith.
Mbah a Moute is an excellent defender and rebounder but is non existent offensively. If the Hawks capture a lead and put the Bucks in catch up mode he won’t be on the floor, effectively removing one of their best defenders.
Advantage: Josh Smith
Al Horford vs Kurt Thomas
I really like Kurt Thomas and I have his whole career. He was someone that I would have really liked to seen with the Hawks and he is smart enough defensively and crafty enough offensively to hold his own in this matchup. Horford will have to use his athleticism to his perimeter jump shot. I look for the pick and roll to be a goto play for the Hawks. Thomas is going to be hard for Horford to over power so he will need to be quick in his decisions or kick the ball back out to the shooters.
Advantage: Al Horford
Hawks Bench vs Milwaukee’s Bench:
This is one of the keys to the series for me. The Hawks have to get contributions from Jamal Crawford but also Mo Evans and ZaZa Pachulia. It remains to be seen just how much time Joe Smith or Jeff Teauge get. They may play early in the series but I could see the Hawks going with a tight eight man rotation at crunch time. Foul difficulties will likely help decide Smith’s playing time.
The Bucks bench is talented as well. Jerry Stackhouse has played extremely well against the Hawks and the before mentioned Ilyasova bring strong perimeter shooting for the Bucks. Luke Ridnour is the X factor in my opinion for the Bucks. Due to his perimeter shooting and being a little more veteran savvy he could end up playing a lot of minutes in place of Brandon Jennings who at times can force the issue.
Still I am going to give the advantage to the Hawks on the strength of having Jamal Crawford coming off the bench. He should be a near unanimous sixth man of the year and like Johnson the Bucks really don’t have an answer for him defensively.
I am going to predict Hawks will win the series in five games. Unlike last years Miami series I expect all of these games to be close and hotly contested. Milwaukee embodies their coach Scott Skiles and will bring a lot of fire and defensive intensity. Intensity that the Hawks will have to match. In the end though no matter how you look at it the Hawks are clearly the more talented team and should advance.